All Our Yesterdays 35
by Harry Warner Jr.
Quick, now, what’s happened only three times since fandom began and may never happen again?
Publication of a fanzine index, that’s what has taken more than four decades to make its three appearances. I’ll be terribly surprised if the next four decades produce a repetition of this rarest of fannish events.
Hardly anyone still has a complete set of the first of the fanzine indexes, which R. D. Swisher published and then revised during the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. It was hectographed, didn’t have a big circulation, and never appeared in complete bound form as one volume. It was done at a time when there was still a reasonable chance for a nearly complete, accurate fanzine index to be published, and Swisher was the ideal person to accomplish the task. It’s doubtful that anyone in fandom has ever had his persistence and thoroughness as a compiler of facts. He’s remembered today only for the fanzine index, but he also compiled for his own satisfaction similar indexes on prozine stories, activities of fans in printed form, and goodness knows what else.
It would be ridiculous to say anything derogatory about a person whose pioneering index made possible later efforts in the same direction. It wasn’t Swisher’s fault that nobody with similar persistence turned up in later years to complete new editions of the index on the model he’d created. But you can’t help wondering if fanzine indexes would have appeared more frequently in the years that followed, if Swisher’s original creation had been a trifle less thorough. He listed where known the number of pages in each issue of each fanzine, the method of reproduction utilised, the size of the pages, together with the date when known and the volume and number. Digging out all those figures about page numbers and sizes magnified the task stupendously for those who followed him, and this information may not really be as relevant to users of the index as some kind of designation on the general nature of the fanzine — genzine, apa publication, polemic or whatever — and the address of its editor or publisher.
Strangest of all was Swisher’s determination to include a listing for every fanzine he could find mentioned anywhere, even if no issue of a given title had ever appeared. It made his work all the harder, and it must have discouraged many a fan in later years from deciding to bring his index up to date, out of the conviction that fandom would expect the same meticulous inclusion of imaginary fanzines that existed only as titles in fiction about fans or a vague publishing idea that flitted briefly and without further consequences through the mind of a neofan.
Swisher himself found the fanzine chronicle toil so giant that by the mid-1940’s, when he seems to have abandoned the activity, he had fallen five years behind on reading the prozines, with great harm to his complicated file cards which were coded to show his opinion of each story, then averaged out to create relative standings of quality for each author. I’d assumed that Swisher was either dead or so completely gafiated that nobody would ever find him again, when nearly a quarter-century went by with no new mention of him in fanzines. But just recently I discovered that he’s alive and well in Missouri. I notified some fans who live near his present home, in the hope that they could sound him out on a return to fandom and on the whereabouts of whatever may remain of his file cards. He may still even have some things important for the sercon fans, because he was one of Campbell’s best friends and safeguarded numerous unpublished and incomplete Campbell manuscripts.
Starting in 1952, a new series of fanzine index instalments began to appear. Bob Pavlat and Bill Evans, two Washington DC area fans, undertook the updating of the listing which was already a half-dozen years out of date. They published at intervals over the next seven years a new complete rundown of fanzines from the beginning through 1952, this time in a thoroughly legible mimeographed format, retaining the basic format of information that Swisher had created, but omitting the titles known to have never materialised. They had some problems that Swisher hadn’t encountered, such as figuring out how to list Metalo-Mag, Ackerman’s fanzine that was published on Army dogtags. They also had to make some decisions on the beginning of the trend for fanzines to spread out from their original subject matter and move into different fields. Thus, Max Brand was the subject of a fat publication by Rev. Darrell C. Richardson; the Pavlat-Evans index included it, even though its connection with fantasy or fantasy fans must have been quite limited.
This second fanzine index is still quite valuable as long as you remember that fandom had already grown so large in the 1950’s that it was almost impossible to be as nearly complete as Swisher had been. Thus, through my fault, this index lists very few of the fanzines that were distributed through VAPA. I had one of the few complete sets of VAPA mailings in the possession of a still active fan. I promised on their request to provide all the necessary facts; I never got around to it, and so you’ll not find listings for quite a few fanzine titles that belonged to people who are today quite celebrated professionals.
The third fanzine index to be published was essentially identical with the Pavlat-Evans achievement. Harold Palmer Piser was active in fandom so recently that most readers of Focal Point should recognise the name, even if they know little about him. He was an elderly man who claimed to possess absolutely no interest in fandom, had a low opinion of most fans, but was retired, had lots of spare time, and had a mania for indexing things. He decided to bring the fanzine index up to date through 1965, planned to rename it the Bibliography of Fanzines, and started out by reprinting the Pavlat-Evans volume within one cover, in loose-leaf format. For reasons that I’ve never understood, he insisted on a strictly sic reprint, including totally irrelevant paragraphs that had been published in reference to non-index matters in the original serial production, and not making the least effort to correct and augment the listings with the things Piser had already discovered in the course of his own labours.
The 141-page volume appeared five years ago. Piser was even unhappier with fandom when it failed to sell well but refused to make any particular effort to merchandise it. He couldn’t understand why dozens of orders didn’t arrive in each day’s mail, or why it would be more likely to sell if he arranged to have a pile of copies available at each regional con than if he simply announced its availability in some fanzines. Nevertheless, Piser continued to work on his bibliography. He asked fans to supply information on fanzines to him, but he really wasn’t satisfied with a fact unless he’d personally written it down after holding in his own hands the fanzine to which it referred. This led to his borrowing entire collections of fanzines and the ensuing near-disaster to several important collections when Piser suddenly died a couple of years ago. Most of the borrowed fanzines seemed to have found their way to survival, but all his research work was destroyed and nobody seems to know what happened to the unsold copies of the reprinted Pavlat-Evans index.
It’s unlikely that another Harold Piser will come along and I have doubts that there will ever be another fanzine index that attempts to cover everything from the beginning to the present. The magnitude of the task is staggering. Doing the job on just one current year in fandom of today’s size and diversity would probably be as large as Swisher’s labours when he covered fandom’s first ten years or so. Neither Swisher nor Pavlat-Evans had any great problem with such contemporary facts of fannish life as the semi-secret apas, the fanzines that exist in a dozen or so nations where English isn’t the native tongue, or such phenomena as comics fanzines and monsters fanzines. The fan who decides in some future year to follow in the footsteps of Swisher must do some awful soul-searching. Comics fanzines have been even more numerous, ephemeral, and small circulation in recent years than those in the direct science fiction fandom tradition. But you can’t conceive of a fanzine index that omits Xero, and if you include Xero, by what criterion do you omit a fanzine published by a 13-year-old for two issues about the Dynamic Duo?
If it’s any consolation, such an indexless future for fandom has its parallels in other hobbies. I’m most familiar with the lack of a comprehensive and complete catalogue in record collecting fandom. Recordings are published professionally; most of them are listed in catalogues issued by the producing companies, and they sell thousands of copies, which would seem to make the task of publishing a complete list of all records quite simple. But there’s no such thing. The person who collects records must do the best he can by hunting partial listings: a few giant volumes that listed all available recordings of serious music when they were new, reprints of old catalogues of the major recording companies, ‘discographies’ of various composers and performers, as many of the Schwann catalogues as he can find and afford, and improvise with these as best he can.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see the fanzine index of the future split up in somewhat the same way, instead of embodying one thousand-page volume that would drive the compiler to an early grave and bankrupt the dozen fans who tried to finance its publication. It’s quite practicable to plan and accomplish complete indexes to the important apas; old-time fans who have spent most of their careers in a large city might in their dotage amuse themselves by putting out indexes to all the fanzines published in and around Los Angeles, Philadelphia, or Bloomington; and someone might begin to publish an annual index to the fanzines of the past dozen months. It may not be too late to think about revising the Pavlat-Evans volume to increase its accuracy and completeness for the period it covers. Fandoms in Europe and South American nations are young enough for complete indexes to non-English language fanzines to be compiled.
If someone out there in fandom has been secretly compiling a complete and up-to-date fanzine index, and wants to gloat over my discomfiture by sending me an advance copy to prove that I’m a poor prophet, I hope he waits a little while. I’m under doctor’s orders not to lift more than 15 lbs., and I don’t think that the new edition could be published under that weight limit.
Last revised: 1 March, 2006
Return to eFanzines.com home page